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Language & Literature

English literature

Among the earlier English material, William Thynne's 2nd edition of the works of Chaucer (1542) stands out, with its woodcuts of the various pilgrims. Moving into the 17th century, notable items include the first collected works of Ben Jonson (1616), and the first collected poems of John Donne (1633). The earliest Shakespeare in the Library is the relatively common Fourth Folio of 1685, although there is a first edition of The Birth of Merlin (1662, but originally performed in 1622), which is ascribed to Shakespeare and William Rowley - a member of Shakespeare's company - on the title page. No authority accepts this attribution, viewing the play as probably Rowley's own. The Library also has fine copies of some more extended, and often illustrated, poems from this period, such as Michael Drayton's topographical Poly-Olbion (1622) with maps of each English and Welsh county bedecked with sprites, nymphs and other personifications of the landscape, and Edward Benlowes' ode to knowledge, Theophila (1652). Milton's works feature heavily in the catalogue, notably the sixth state of the first edition of Paradise lost (1669), and the illustrated fourth edition (1688) prepared by Jacob Tonson, which propelled a commercially underperforming book to become one of the major poems in the English language. Tonson was one of the key figures in late 17th- and early 18th-century publishing, and developed a special relationship with his authors, notably John Dryden, of whose works St John's holds numerous first editions produced by Tonson, including Absalom & Achitophel (1681-82), Religio laici (1682), Amphitryon (1690), Cleomenes (1692), and Fables ancient & modern (1700). There are also later editions of Dryden's plays with accompanying music written by Purcell. Another Restoration dramatist who was published by Tonson was WIlliam Congreve, and first editions of several of his plays appear in the collections, most notably his masterpiece The Way of the World (1700). Tonson was also involved in the publication of the subscription edition of Poems on several occasions (1708) by one of St John's most celebrated poets, Matthew Prior, of which the College has a fine large paper edition. Daniel Defoe led one of the more colourful lives of the period, being a journalist, wine merchant, novelist, and secret agent, and spent three days in the pillory for pamphleteering. St John's has many contemporary editions of pamphlets either by Defoe, reputedly by Defoe, or responding to pamphlets he wrote, as well as first editions of some of his other works such as The consolidator, or, Memoirs of sundry transactions from the world in the moon, translated from the lunar language (1705), a satirical tale about a journey to the Moon, and a later novel, Memoirs of a cavalier (1720). Later Augustan poets, and 18th century authors feature particularly prominently. Notable amongst this material are first editions of several authors: Alexander Pope, including The rape of the lock (1714), Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot (1735), his translations of the Iliad (1720) and Odyssey (1725), and his edition of Shakespeare (1725); Jonathan Swift, including the Tale of a tub (1704); Samuel Johnson, including Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia (1759); and Laurence Sterne, including his Sentimental journey (1768), and parts of Tristram Shandy, some of which bear the author's signature. Other interesting 18th-century items include the first edition of one of the more famous literary forgeries, the Rowley poems, published in 1777 as the work of a 15th-century poet but in fact written by Thomas Chatterton, and a selection of Designs by Mr. R. Bentley for poems by Thomas Gray (1753). The Library has a William Wordsworth collection, comprising numerous early editions and critical works on his poetry, including the first, commercially unsuccessful, edition of Lyrical ballads (1798), published with Coleridge. Other interesting items from the early 19th century include a first edition of Coleridge's Christabel (1816) which includes Kubla Khan, a very rare copy of the the tract which led to Shelley's expulsion from Oxford, On the necessity of atheism (1811), and a first edition of Fitzgerald's celebrated translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1859). Patrick Bronte, father of the famous literary sisters, attended St John's, and the Library has a first edition of his moral verse, Cottage poems from 1811. Items of literary interest in the special collections extend well beyond the early printed period, and embrace the Samuel Butler collection, and the Guy Lee collection of poetry, which includes a first edition of Eliot's Waste-Land (1924).

Literature in other languages

The collections of foreign language literature are somewhat less extensive, but do contain notable works in French, Italian, Spanish, and Neo-Latin. The Library is fortunate to have a copy of Francesco Colonna's illustrated work of fantasy Hypnerotomachia polyphili (1499), which was to have an impact on classicism in the arts and garden design, a first edition of Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516), and key works on the new humanism by Erasmus, notably first printings of Institutio principis Christiani (1516) and De conscribendis epistolis (1521). Interesting French editions include the second printing (although the first using this title) of Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron from 1559, a first edition of Corneille's play Le Cid (1637), together with the second edition of his collected dramatic works (1663), and a first edition of Pascal's satire against the Jesuits, Les provinciales (1657), published under a a pseudonym allegedly in Cologne (actually in Amsterdam), and so effective that Louis XIV ordered it burnt and shredded. Eighteenth-century French editions are particularly well represented, partly due to the literary preferences of Thomas Gisborne, whose bequest to the Library contains much contemprary French drama and fiction. The Gatty Collection also holds some items of interest, including a first edition of Voltaire's epic poem La Ligue (1723) and of Beaumarchais' Mariage de Figaro (1785). Another notable collection in this respect is the collection given by William Francis Smith of books relating to Rabelais, including numerous early editions of Rabelais' authorities. By way of Italian literature, the Library contains several copies of Dante's Divina Commedia, including the 1487 edition and Vellutello's celebrated 1544 edition, both of which are illustrated. Spanish literature is represented by a contemporary Flemish edition of Cervantes' Novelas ejemplares (1614). The Library also contains a copy of Sa'di's Gulistan (Rose garden) in Persian, with a parallel Latin translation (1651).

Dictionaries & Linguistic works

The collections at St John's hold many key works of lexicography and bibliography. Amongst the dictionaries and thesauruses from the 16th century is John Baret's Alvearie updated from a triple to a 'quadruple dictionarie' (1580), and what appears to be the first Dictionarie French and English (1571). This work was developed in the 17th century by a Johnian, Randle Cotgrave, whose Dictionarie of the French and English tongues (1611) was the most extensive French word-list of the time. John Davies was one of the greatest Welsh scholars of the period and his Antiquae linguae Britannicae of 1632 is a key work of Welsh lexicography of which the Library has a copy. The study of Middle Eastern languages also developed in this century as demonstrated by the proliferation of dictionaries for these languages in the collections. Notable editions here are Raphelengius' seminal Lexicon Arabicum of 1613; the first printed Armenian dictionary, Francesco Rivola's Dictionarium Armeno-Latinum (1633); Hiob Ludolf's Lexicon Aethiopico-Latinum (1661); and Ange de Saint-Joseph's Gazophylacium linguae Persarum (1684). The 18th century saw more key texts printed: in England, Johnson's A dictionary of the English language (1755), and in France, Diderot and D'Alembert's monumental Encyclopedie (1751-1772), of which the Library has a full set. Other items from the 18th century are slightly more esoteric, such as Richey's work on the Hamburg dialect, Idioticon Hamburgense (1755), and Kurze Anleitung zur Erlernung der turkischen Sprache, fur Militar Personen (1789), a Turkish phrasebook for the advancing Austrian military. Other miscellaneous works of a linguistic bent include Beck Cave's Universal character (1657), an attempt at creating a universal script using numbers instead of letters, and a book of word games, Ludus literarum (1674), unfortunately now without the accompanying pack of lettercards.